EVERETT — At an English class in Everett, Minerva Villanueva heard about GED help through the Casino Road Community Center.
Villanueva, the daughter of a field worker and a seamstress, enrolled in the GED program.
“Eight months later, I had my diploma in my hand,” she said.
Now she is studying at community college to become a nursing assistant. She is one of thousands who have benefited from programs at the community center, which is overseen by the Mukilteo Family YMCA. She shared her story as part of a public celebration Tuesday marking six years since the Y opened space on Casino.
Casino Road, home to more than 40 apartment complexes, has the highest concentration of poverty in Snohomish County, said Cory Armstrong-Hoss, the center’s director. The Y served more than 3,000 people on Casino Road from July 2016 through June 2017. That includes adult education classes as well as offerings for young people, such as the free swim lessons at nearby apartment complexes.
At the Y, children and teens “can see themselves as an engineer or an artist or something else,” Armstrong-Hoss said.
“What really changes lives is lasting relationships with caring people,” he said.
Daisy Rithvixay and Darinka Cereceres Reyes got involved through the My Achievers Program, which is held after classes at two south Everett middle schools and Mariner High School.
They graduated from Mariner in 2016 and now are working at the Y while attending college. They consulted each other on their speeches for Tuesday night.
Rithvixay is the daughter of immigrants from Laos. Her parents faced “hardship after hardship,” she said. “Without their story, there wouldn’t be a ‘my story,’ or even a ‘my Y story.’ ”
The achievers program was like a flashlight for her future, she said. She remembers standing on a college campus during a field trip and realizing, “I could be a student at this school or any school.”
Miriam Zaragoza works at Everett Community College. She grew up on Casino Road and has volunteered at the Y. Its mentors also were inspirations in her life, she said. She talks to young people there now about the ways race and class factor into the stereotypes they encounter.
“I see myself a lot in the students,” she said.
Jose and Miriam Vargas are volunteer teachers with the GED program. The classes frequently draw more than two dozen students, said Jose Vargas, who is retired from Boeing.
The students often are juggling jobs with raising their families, he said. The Y provides child-care during the lessons, and parents with infants are allowed to bring them into the classroom. Many are from Mexico and have elementary-school educations, he said. A GED might be their first step toward a university.
“This is a huge opportunity for better jobs and also to keep studying,” he said.
His class Friday had 41 students, mostly women, and strollers lined the walls. Meanwhile, in the child-care room, toddlers fashioned figures from clay and pretended to cook colorful meals on a plastic stove.
Little ones shouldn’t spell the end of a parent’s education, Armstrong-Hoss said. The Y amended its plans for Casino when it learned of the need for adult learning. Those who provide other social services on the campus, known as the Children’s Village, say listening goes further here than dictation.
The Y’s child-care providers aim to teach kindergarten readiness, and the Y hopes to expand that effort in the years ahead, Armstrong-Hoss said.
For the parents, though, Friday’s lesson focused on rounding and working with decimals.
After explaining a concept, Vargas heard a refrain familiar to anyone who’s faced a new math problem: “Why, Maestro, why?”
During another equation, a student called out in Spanish, “One second more!”
Vargas replied: “I am generous. Three seconds more.”
Moments later, he said, “Let’s do another one!”